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The general public thinks teachers have easy jobs with high pay, good benefits, overly generous retirements, and all summer off from work. But the truth is quite different. Those who think teaching is an easy “part time” job should walk a few steps (a mile is not necessary) in their shoes.
If you talk with teachers you get a different picture. Teachers have a difficult, demanding job, both physically and emotionally. Most teachers work long hours for modest pay. They do not have summers “off;” rather they are unemployed. And even though the work they do is critically important, they are unfairly blamed for the ills of society.
They are blamed for budget deficits and taxes. They are blamed for the alleged “failure” of schools. Plus they are a punching bag for politicians needing a campaign issue. As one Wisconsin teacher has written, “The average Wisconsin taxpayer has little understanding of how the teaching profession is being devalued. .. A feeling of being shafted permeates the teaching profession in Wisconsin.”
It is not true that teachers are highly paid. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows other degree holding professionals like RN nurses, architects, IT professionals, pharmacists, engineers, and lawyers make more. Even plumbers can make more. Teacher starting pay is especially low. Retail store managers and truck drivers often make as much or more.
One veteran teacher says that in his early years of teaching he was working a part time job and a summer job to make ends meet. He says, “In these conditions, my teaching suffered. I recycled the same lesson every year. Innovation was limited to what I could concoct late at night or each morning before school. I was a resourceful teacher, but not a developing educator.”
Later he got a unionized teaching job with better pay and benefits. “Under these much-improved conditions, my teaching improved. I’ve been able to ditch most of my part-time work and focus on being a professional educator. I’ve spent some of the extra time collaborating with other well-paid professionals and developing better lessons for my students. My district, school, and students have benefited ...”
Yet this teacher has taken a pay cut in recent years. He says, “Thanks to Walker’s new teacher taxes, I take home about 8% less (-$5039) in regular pay than I did last school year. Another teacher told me she was making less than she did five years ago.
A high school English teacher with 6 years experience says she works seven days a week averaging 10-12 hours a day. This is necessary to “ensure that my students are exposed to relevant, rigorous and engaging lesson plans” and quality feedback. Her summer “off” is consumed with continuing education and professional development (which she pays for) to improve her teaching skills. Teachers are expected to give up evenings and weekends for extra-curricular events.
Teachers routinely deal with up to 150 children each day. Each one is a unique individual with varying learning abilities, learning styles, and motivation. Many of these students have emotional or behavioral problems. Many live in poverty, have difficulties at home, and come to school unprepared to learn the subject matter. Plus the American commercial culture, beamed at students via 24/7 television, values entertainment more than learning. Sound like an easy job to you?
But teachers did not become a teacher for the money. They understand that pay and working conditions are not good. They teach because they want to teach and make a difference in the lives of children. They stay in the profession, despite the scapegoating, for the same reasons.
Teachers leave their profession for a variety of reasons, including personal reasons, inadequate administrative support, isolated working conditions, poor student discipline, low salaries, and lack of input on school wide decisions. But lack of respect is also a factor.
Good teachers are essential to good education for our children. This is obvious but has also been verified by research. The quality of teachers is key to good educational outcomes for students. More than two decades of research supports the connection between teacher quality and student learning.
If we are serious about improving our schools and the education of our children, we must appreciate and support teachers. They have a difficult, demanding, vital job that deserves respect. We must stop demonizing and scapegoating teachers.